Launched in 2004, the Moscow-based hotel chain has big plans for 2012, including a business-focused refresh, a hotel opening in Moscow and the launch of a booking engine.
MOSCOW—With a recently unified leadership team and a new refresh under development, Azimut Hotels is poised for another decade of fast and furious expansion throughout its home base in Russia and Europe.
The Moscow-based hotel chain, which owns, leases, manages and/or franchises 22 mid-market hotels comprising more than 5,500 rooms, was founded in 2004 when Russian private investor Alexander Klyachin purchased his first property in Samara.
Klyachin, who now serves as company chairman, saw a need for reliable accommodations for a growing class of Russian business travelers. Through an aggressive acquisition spree, he built the portfolio up to approximately 3,000 rooms within four years.
By 2008, Klyachin set his sights beyond Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States by purchasing the privately held Austrian Hotel Company. Approximately half of the 20 hotels in the company’s portfolio have since been rebranded under the Azimut flag.
But while the name was the same, the company had two separate operating divisions, one in Russia and one in Austria—that is until August of last year when the group undertook a comprehensive consolidation program, Azimut’s CEO Remco Gerritsen said.
“The main issues of the consolidation were increasing management efficiency, rising of standards, implementation of a new room standard and a comprehensive renovation program of existing hotels,” he wrote via email.
New phase of growth
The consolidation also kick-started a renovation and refresh program throughout the system; the official details of which will be released later this year, Gerritsen said.
The first renovation will take place at Azimut’s largest hotel in St. Petersburg; upgrades in the property’s 1,050 rooms will be completed by June. The same month, the company will open its first hotel in the competitive Moscow market, which also will reflect the new “smart” concept, Gerritsen said.
Remco Gerritsen, CEO of Azimut Hotels
“It will feature various smart ideas and innovative technologies and design elements,” he said of the refresh. “The so-called ‘smart’ concept is informed by a very detailed analysis of the needs of our clientele and is aimed both at the international and the local audience.”
Azimut caters primarily to business travelers, so amenities will focus on the basics—clean rooms, a delicious breakfast, free Wi-Fi and affordable rates, Gerritsen said.
The properties differ slightly inside and outside Russia, as do the needs of its guests, he added. While travelers in Germany, for example, are typically making overnight trips and meeting with clients in corporate offices and the like, Russian travelers are more inclined to use the hotel as the site of meetings given the country’s less developed infrastructure.
“Hotels in Russia should offer more additional services than in Europe, such as well-equipped conference halls, diversity of restaurants and existence of (a) business-center,” Gerritsen said. “Outside the hotel, it’s hard to find a suitable place for a conference, for example. In most Russian cities (there is a) really weak business infrastructure.
“In Europe, 95% of meetings and events are held not in hotels, that’s why there is no need to have a lot of additional services,” he added.
The biggest challenge for Azimut—at least at the moment, Gerritsen said—is to successfully open the company’s first hotel in a highly competitive Moscow hotel market.
“This hotel will symbolize the ‘new Azimut era,’ when Azimut starts to do everything in a smart way,” he said. “We’ve spent two years developing a new hotel concept, including design, services and standards. This concept will be implemented in all chain hotels, so it is rather important to us to make it perfect.”
The company has an additional five management contracts pending, Gerritsen said.
And if a new refresh wasn’t enough to keep executives busy, the company also is launching a new optimized booking channel during the third quarter to drive more traffic through property direct, he said.
“It’ll help our guests to book rooms faster, easier and on best price.”